Alumni Spotlight: Nina Bhattacharya

936796_4865079825556_539614751_nName: Nina Bhattacharya

Hometown: Grand Blanc, Michigan

School: University of Michigan (B.A. in Public Policy)

Fulbright ETA placement location and year: During the 2012-2013 grant period, I taught at SMA Negeri 1 Krian in Krian, Java Timur. (You can read more about my day-to-day life that year—the good and the challenging—on The Hairpin.)

Current city and job: I’ve been lucky to call Cambridge, MA, my home for the last year. Right now, I’m a Master of Science Candidate in Global Health & Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Life After Fulbright: Writing this is both timely and a bit bittersweet. Just last week, two former students called me at work to catch up. Another reached out on Whatsapp, while another over Twitter. Some days, it’s a little difficult to believe that most of my students are now completing their freshman years of college!

After returning from Indonesia, I moved to Washington, D.C., and began working at AcademyHealth, a nonprofit focusing on health services research. I specifically worked on a government-funded project focused on bringing together the diverse stakeholders working with electronic health data to improve public and population health. It was an excellent opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of the research world, as well as think through the ways evidence is translated and shared with different communities.

This is a question I’ve continued to explore since living in Indonesia. How do we communicate across cultures, across identities? On the side, I’ve developed and facilitated retreats for young adults that examine feminism and allyhood through the lens of faith. It has been remarkable to watch young Hindu Americans use dialogue to examine the ways faith and social justice intersect. More than that, it has been proof that thoughtful engagement with the world can—and should—be intersectional.

The grant also provided lens for me to think critically about what it meant to be an American woman of color working in international development and education. Some of these reflections on race emerged in my Indonesiaful essay, Blacksweet, but have become more nuanced (I hope!) over the last few years. I have been reflecting on how to put community voices at the center of such conversations, rather than my own. It’s an ongoing process involving a lot of listening, that’s for sure. I’d urge you to do the same, and reflect ways the institutions and systems you’re from shape your Fulbright experience and the students with whom you work. Some questions to mull over: What does it mean when Fulbright cohorts to Indonesia don’t represent the diversity of the country of origin? Does this affirm stereotypes of Americans? Which groups of students are encouraged to apply, and which groups may lack the support? How can you support your fellow grantees who do identify differently than you?

Grappling with these questions have also influenced my current research, as a global health student at Harvard interested in adolescent education and mental health. I’m a current fellow at the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator, where I have been working on a series of workshops on emerging visual techniques for knowledge translation and dialogue. Day to day, I think a lot about how to use simple images to make big ideas accessible to different populations—from different literacies, identities, and sectors. This summer, I will be collaborating with the Human Outreach Project in Tanzania to explore visual methodologies for public health communication, as well as bidirectional community engagement and empowerment.

These are things I wouldn’t have even considered without teaching in Indonesia, and working with 300 bright, occasionally goofy students who challenged me to be better every day. If you have any questions about my year, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at ninabha@mail.harvard.edu!

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